The Volturno Ship Disaster - October 1913

The Volturno Ship Disaster - October 1913

Translated into English by Jan Daamen

© 1999,2000 by Jan Daamen

Articles from Dutch newspaper NRC (Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant)

Volturno article Sunday 12 October 1913 41 Kb

   [We have informed the board of the Uranium Steamship Traffic Company about this telegram, because the statement about the number of persons missing is much larger than was reported in the wireless telegram of the Carmania. The Grosser Kurfürst reports approximately 100, whereas the Carmania mentioned 19.
   The board had not yet received further information.
   It looks plausible to us, that the telegram of the Carmania has data of later a date than the one from the Grosser Kurfürst, which had continued its entire journey, whereas the Carmania stopped and stayed at the place of the disaster to continue to look for persons.
   We were given the following list of persons who were traveling in first class and were all saved: Jossel Farber, Rubin Reimer, Leibe Sabsin, Michna Sobsin, Ester Kaplan, Hinde Friedman, Cirl Tepper, Hoda Tepper, Delle Tepper, Elja Tepper, Parka Tepper, Bassie Tepper and Belle Kidanski all from Russia; Joha Krug and Frieda Krug, both from America; Marianne Mrzigod, Austria; Adele Ceskor, Bohemia; Karolina Chodala, Galicia; Antonio Armand and Hedwig Eberle, Germany; Réné and Jean Caserganda, France. from the Editors]

   LONDON, 11 October. The board of directors of the Uranium Company have ordered their agents in Halifax to send two steamships to the location of the disaster to search for the bodies of the persons killed.
   The steamship Uranium will leave this evening.

Volturno article Monday 13 October 1913 - part 1 229 Kb
Volturno article Monday 13 October 1913 - part 2 230 Kb
Volturno article Monday 13 October 1913 - part 3 333 Kb


The disaster of the Volturno

   The latest messages make it more than likely, that the message, which stated that only 19 persons on board of the Volturno were killed, was wrong. According to the most recent calculations only 523 persons of the 657 persons on board must have been saved, so that 134 persons, among which are 65 crewmembers, must have died in the flames or in the waves. A large number, although much less than the number of 1,605 persons who lost their lives deep at sea on the Titanic on 15th April last year.
   The fire on board of the ship and the raging waves make this disaster a serious one. Neverthless, perhaps thanks to the battle that the crew fought against the fire, the ship remained afloat for an extraordinary long time, and it is because of this fact alone, that one was able to save the majority of the persons on board after the sea had calmed down.
   Wireless telegraphy once again played a big part in this. Thursday morning at 6 a.m. the first fire alarm had sounded on board the ship and 6 hours later the Carmania, which had been warned by a wireless telegram, already was at the scene. Also the La Touraine, the Minneapolis, the Rappahanock, the Czar, the Naragansett, the Davonian, the Kroonland, the Grosser Kurfürst, the Seydlitz and the Asian - so none less than 11 ships in total - answered the signals for help and steamed to the scene of the calamity.
The Marconi-telegraphists were able to radio with power from the dynamo's till 9.20 p.m.; after that, when the fire had reached the boilers, they used batteries.
   The arriving ships, however, for the time being could do not much more than watch and wait. As the Carmania came into sight - see under the Telegrams - already five lifeboats with shipwrecked persons are said to have fallen prey to the sea. The telegrams in earlier issues of our paper have shown how one has tried to send boats to the burning ship from the Carmania and the Grosser Kurfürst, but these efforts were without success initially. [Start of Part 2] All but three oars broke off in the hands of the rowers in the lifeboat that was lowered under the command of the first officer of the Carmania and they returned to the Cunard-ship with great difficulty. The only drowning person that was picked out of the water by the Carmania is the German Trintepohl, who was rescued because he was spotted with a search light and one sailor ventured out into the sea on a lifeline. Other cries were heard, but no one was seen. However, lifebuoys with a light were cast out.
   Five passengers in one lifeboat were saved by the Grosser Kurfürst; the boat sank immediately afterwards. Another two boats full with people apparently did not sink or get crushed immediately after lowering into the water. That is, they searched the sea for these two boats on Friday morning after the last rescue, but nothing was found.
   At about 9 p.m. the flames found their way through the nave, coming from the engine room and the bunkers, moving upwards and soon after that the explosion occurred, which made Trintepohl decide to jump overboard. Flares were launched from the Volturno, but it was impossible to offer help. [End of Part 1]
   Around midnight, however, a spark of hope came about, as the progress of the flames on their way from the tailgate of the engine room to the stern seemed to not get worse. Moreover also the northwest storm calmed down and the sun rose to a new day, which must have greeted the remaining survivors of the still burning ship with new expectations. They were then taken off the wreck by a small fleet of longboats.
   The ships must have held a final roll-call by wireless telegram before they left the area of the ship's fire. According to the latest news the following number of persons are reported to be on board of the following ships: Carmanis - 1, La Touraine - 42, Minneapolis - 30, Rappahanock - 19 Czar - 102, Narragansett - 29, Devonian - 59, Kroonland - 90, Grosser Kurfürst - 105, and Seydlitz - 46. A total of 523. It is possible that these figures will later get changed.
   It was already known, that there were aboard: 24 saloonpassengers, 540 steerage passengers and 93 crewmembers.
   According to the lists in English papers the following crewmembers must have been saved: on board of the Kroonland: captain Francis Inch; the first engineer R. Dewar; the second, third and fifth engineer, and the two telegraphists; on board of the Narragansett: the steward Baker; on board of the Czar: the physician Purser; and 19 more crewmembers whose names are not yet known, are on board of the Grosser Kurfürst.
   The management of the Uranium Steam Ship Company provided us with a different report about the number of crewmembers saved on board of the Kroonland. According to this message, and in addition to the report below of a later date, there would also be the following crewmembers on board of the Kroonland: the captain; the second, fourth and fifth engineer (Stegmeijer), the two telegraphists, the second steward Feierhahn, and 6 more men: Gunderson, Saarinan, Blitz, Muller, De Groot and Ballor.
   The Volturno was launched in 1906 and it had a volume of 3,502 tonnes.


   The board of the Uranium Steam Ship Company also informs us of the following:
   On the muster-roll the following Dutch [End of Part 2] [Start of Part 3] names appear: Lindberg, sailor; Dobbelaar, ordinary seaman; Stegmeijer, 5th engineer (the latter one was saved by S. S. Kroonland); Kaling, carpenter; Kipkens, stoker; Librecht, also a boilerman; De Bruin, first baker; De Wachter, second baker; Hoefkens, butcher; Muller, Blitz and Ballor, assistant stewards (latter three were saved by the Kroonland); Kraan, Berkemeyer, Kunst, Arends, De Groot (latter one saved by the Kroonland); Koster, Huiser, Dijkstra, den Exter, all waiters.
The steam ship Czar is expected to arrive here tomorrow evening. The 102 persons saved will be lodged in several hotels and, if they so wish, will be brought to America with the first available ship.

   It is not yet known, who of the aforementioned persons are on board of other ships besides the Kroonland.

Volturno article Sunday 12 October 1913 329 Kb


The disaster of the Volturno

   BREMEN, 11 October. The following wireless telegram was received from the steamship Grosser Kurfürst owned by Northgerman Lloyd: On Thursday afternoon at 4pm we received requests for help from the Volturno and immediately we steamed towards the location given, 48 degrees, 50 minutes northern latitude and 36 degrees 6 minutes western longitude. We found the Volturno, it was already totally on fire.
   The fire was probably caused by a severe explosion on the forepart of the ship and caused the death of several passengers and members of the crew.
   There were 11 steamships on the location of the disaster. A severe northwest storm was blowing and there was a high sea with strong billows. Two boats of the Grosser Kurfürst were busy with the rescue from 9pm to 3am. It almost was impossible to get close to the wreck and the shipwrecked had to save themselves by jumping overboard.
   Five people were saved from a boat sent out by the Volturno; the boats of the Grosser Kurfürst saved a total of 86 passengers, two officers, an engineer and 16 sailors. All the ships that had come to the rescue saved a total of 523 persons. About 100 persons on board are missing. The Carmania and the Touraine are still searching on the location of the disaster. Two boats full of people are missing. It is not likely that they will be found.
The wreck remains a danger to the shipping traffic. We continued our journey after we had taken care of the shipwrecked.

Volturno article Tuesday 14 October 1913 - part 1 291 Kb
Volturno article Tuesday 14 October 1913 - part 2 293 Kb
Volturno article Tuesday 14 October 1913 - part 3 369 Kb


The disaster of the Volturno

   LONDON 13 October. According to what Lloyds has heard, the Naval Ministry has ordered the cruiser Donegal to search for the wreck of the Volturno and to destroy it.

   LONDON, 13 October. (Part.) On arrival at Fishguard, the captain of the Carmania refused to make a statement on the disaster untill he would have reported first to his company in London (the Cunard Line). The daily bulletin, issued on board of the Carmania, mentions that the passengers on board of the ship were having breakfast when they heard of the arrival of a wireless signal about a ship that was on fire 75 miles away from them.
   Immediately the brought their ship about to the indicated location. As the Carmania reached it, it turned out to be the Volturno on fire. It was obvious that the fire could no longer be extinguished and that the captain made all efforts to save the passengers.
   Four boats, however, were smashed to pieces when they were lowered into the water and only two boats arrived in the water. Next is a survey of the other things that happened, and these do not contradict the messages that were already published before.
   The passengers of the Carmania gave signs to the shipwrecked people to keep up hope; some of those people replied by waving their handkerchieves.
  Then the mail boat Seydlitz arrived, followed by the Grosser Kurfürst and the other ships.
   Captain Barr (of the Carmania) had lines shot across to the Volturno, hoping that these could be caught there.
   At sundown the flames blazed up high and clouds of smoke were spreading around. Shortly after that [Start of Part 2] a desperate wireless telegram was received and captain Inch had another boat lowered into the water, which was to try and bring another line to the Grosser Kurfürst; this boat was under the command of the second officer of the Volturno. That boat was smashed to pieces against the Grosser Kurfürst, but miraculously five people on board could be rescued by the German ship.
   Yet another pressing attempt was made by Captain Inch to signal for help, and this was immediately followed by an explosion, which seemed to sign the death-warrant for the burning ship. The passengers of the Carmania were shocked watching the horrific spectacle. When they saw one man wrestling with the waves, a sailor from the Carmania jumped into the sea and saved him.
   Upon daybreak, when the hope for saving was almost given up, the fierce sea calmed down considerably. All ships lowered boats; it became apparent that the majority of the persons on board of the Volturno was still alive.
   Captain Inch was the last one to leave the burning ship. He was carrying the ship's papers with him.

   NEW YORK, 13 October. (Part.) A telegram received here from the Grosser Kurfürst is mentioning that the fire on board of the Volturno started on Thursday morning around 7 a.m. and was caused by an explosion in the forehold. At the arrival of the Kurfürst the flames were burning upto eighty feet high from the shutters of the [End of Part 1] ship. Fifty or more among the crew and passengers from middeck died in the explosion of in the fire.
  They succeeded to control the flames the entire day to some extent but around 9 o'clock in the evening these had reached the coal-bunkers and the waterproof bulkheads had to be closed. It was not possible to have the pumps work on full power and soon the flames were breaking out of the entire forward part of the ship. At 9:40 p.m. a new explosion occured, which caused a panic among the crew and passengers.
   Then the Kurfürst lowered three boats, which picked up 32 of the shipwrecked people who had jumped into the sea or got swept overboard.
   One of the boats had been floating for over six hours and was almost wrecked.
   In repairing the machine for wireless telegrams, Lloyd, the second officer of the Volturno, fell from 20 feet high. Nevertheless he continued to help the whole rest of the day in extinguishing the fire and at seven o'clock ventured on a dangerous trip in a small boat to the Kurfürst. The boat was smashed to pieces, but the (four) people on board were all saved by a lifeboat of the Kurfürst.
   MONTREAL, 13 October. The Großer Kurfürst signaled a wireless to Cape Race: 40 people were killed at the explosion on the Volturno. The captain, who is on board of the Kroonland, has been injured.
   LONDON, 13 October (Part.) Humphrey Jones from Liverpool, one of the passengers of the Carmania, declared in a press interview: When captain Barr had realized how difficult the rescue was going to be, considering the turbulent sea, he ordered the telegraphist to send a warning to the oilboat Narragansett, as it was known that this ship was crossing the Atlantic Ocean, so that they could effuse oil on the waves. [End of Part 2]
[Start of Part 3]
The Carmania soon got in contact with the oilboat and the commander there signaled back that he would come immediately with the greatest speed possible.
   The Narragansett arrived on Friday morning and immediately started to spray hundreds of tons of oil onto the sea. This caused a considerable reduction of the force of the waves.
   Jones pays hommage to the crew of all ships that participated in the rescue, especially the crew of the Grosser Kurfürst, the Czar and the Kroonland.
   HAVRE 13 October (Part.) The agent of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique was given a list by the commander of the Touraine, listing all shipwrecked persons who were rescued and who are on board of the Touraine. Among them are 16 Austrians, 12 Russians, 7 Germans, 1 Bulgarian, 2 Italians, 1 Rumanian and 2 Dutchmen. The nationality of two of the persons rescued is still unknown.
   Among the persons rescued are 89 emigrants, among them 2 women and 10 children; furthermore 2 crewmembers. Several children got separated from their parents.
   The Touraine is scheduled to arrive at 8 o'clock in the morning tomorrow at the local roadstead.
   LONDON, 13 October. The Carmania arrived at Fishguard this afternoon at 2:05 pm

Volturno article Wednesday 15 October 1913 - part 1 300 Kb
Volturno article Wednesday 15 October 1913 - part 2 294 Kb


The disaster of the Volturno

   HAVRE, 14 October, The Touraine, with 42 shipwrecked people from the Volturno on board, has sailed in here this morning at eight o'clock. Immediately numerous reporters went on board to get a story on the tragedy directly from the ones who were saved. All passengers of the Touraine were on deck; the shipwrecked of the Volturno were in the cabins, which the captain had made available to them. The unhappy people dared not to come onto deck before it was explained to them that the harbor had been reached.
   Only three of them spoke understandable English, none of them spoke French.
   The most sad scene was a group of eight children, which pressed themselves onto the passengers of the Touraine, who tried to comfort them with caresses. The children were weeping and crying for their parents.
   Photographers asked the shipwrecked to stand close to each other and took several photos.
   Meanwhile the passengers of the Volturno started to compose themselves.
[Start of Part 2]
One woman seemed to be impressed still by the events. Most of the people who were saved were wearing clothes of the passengers of the Touraine; they were a picturesque group. Some of them were wearing their own clothes, some were barefooted, others were wearing big hats and fur coats.
   The first officer Izenic told about some details of the salvation work. By half past eight the Touraine heard through a wireless telegram about the Volturno being on fire. Immediately they set course full steam to the designated area. The passengers, who had been informed about the contents of the telegram, volunteered to assist the crew and were diligent and dedicated to prepare everything.
   The Touraine was 205 miles away from the Volturno when they heard about the unfortunate event, so that they only arrived at the scene of the calamity by nine o'clock in the evening. By that time the Volturno was already half burnt out; the front and middle ship was one big furnace, from which the flames were blazing up, and thick coulds of smoke ascended from the ship. The Volturno was then surrounded by ten steamships already, but it was not possible to lower boats into the sea. The waves were enormous and made the Volturno roll heavily; the ship seemed to be completely desperate.
   In spite of the danger of the fire and the closeness of the other ships, the Touraine tried to approach the Volturno as closely as possible by midnight. They could see the passengers packed close together on the afterdeck. Women with their hair loose were pressing their children into their arms. The men, who stood in front of them, seemed to form a defense wall against the flames, which were approaching quickly. More to the front they saw sailors in futile attempts to control the fire. All were screaming desperately and in spite of the howling flames we could hear that. [End of Part 1]
   Sloops of all ships tried to get alongside of the burning ship.
   The officer had to cut his story short here, because he got an order from the bridge to resume his duties.
   HAVRE, 14 Oct. (part.). Captain Caussin of the Touraine gives a very extensive and technical report of the fire on the Volturno and the salvation work in his report to the agent of the Compagnie Transatlantique in Le Havre.
   "We were kept informed the entire day," he says, "by wireless telegrams exchanged between the Carmania, Seydlitz and the Volturno. We received the signals from the Carmania and Seydlitz, but could not hear the replies from the Volturno, because their machines were probably working on accumulators.
   By half past eight in the morning we heard that the Volturno was on fire; the Carmania asked whether the fire was expanding. The Carmania told that it hoped to reach the burning ship at half past twelve in the afternoon. At 10 o'clock the Volturno signaled that they had lowered two boats with passengers. They soon were out of visual contact, four other boats had been ruined to pieces.
Volturno article Wednesday 15 October 1913 - part 1 250 Kb

   At the place where the Touraine was situated, the sea was very rough then.
   At half past eleven the Carmania came into sight of the Volturno, and the Carmania informed the Volturno by half past twelve that the sea was too turbulent to lower boats; if people on the Volturno would not succeed in putting the fire down, then the Touraine would approach the burning ship closely in order to try and connect to the boat with big wires and to go search for the two missing boats if there would be time for that.
   The Volturno replied with the wish to search for the two boats, but to not go too far away from them, because they might need help urgently at any moment.
   At 3:15 the Volturno urgently signaled the Touraine to return, because the fire was growing bigger all the time. It requested to start rescue immediately with all means available. It was time to abandon ship.
   Meanwhile the Seydlitz and the Grosser Kurfürst also arrived, but they could not lower boats as well. The sea was too rough. The Seydlitz did try to, but had to give up. The Carmania then lowered a boat into the sea without any passengers and tried to let it float to the Volturno, but it did not succeed.
   The Seydlitz and the Kurfürst then threw out buoys on wires, but these too did not reach the Volturno. Meanwhile the Kroonland had shown up and tried to do the same, but all was in vain.
   At 8 o'clock the Volturno signals: "for God's sake, help us, the fire is spreading". Soon after we hear that the machine for wireless telegraphy on the Volturno is no longer working.
   At 8.30 the Carmania reports to all ships within range of the wireless machine about the correct position of the Volturno. The Carmania does not believe that the burning ship will make it till the next morning.
   As of 7 o'clock in the evening the wind starts to calm down a bit and gradually the sea becomes more calm.
   At 9 o'clock we have visual contact with the burning Volturno, which resembles a sea of fire, and the ships surrounding it.
   The report then describes the difficulties of lowering the boats into the high waves. The sailors contest in the honor of getting down into the boats. The first boat arrives back at 2 in the night carrying 5 saved passengers who could be brought into the boat with great effort and who are exhausted of fatigue.
   Immediately the boat leaves again and as the sea is less rough, they also manage to lower the big lifeboat. This does not succeed however to save someone for now.
   The first boat returns at 3.30 in the morning with seven saved passengers and the second boat after that with several shipwrecked people, who had been lowered from the Volturno using buoys. Two passengers of the Volturno were killed as they threw themselves into the boat from the ship. The boats were heavily loaded and almost crashed on the way back. Once again the two boats returned another time to

Volturno article Wednesday 15 October 1913 - part 1 300 Kb
Volturno article Wednesday 15 October 1913 - part 2 268 Kb
Volturno article Wednesday 15 October 1913 - part 3 552 Kb

means of buoys descended from the Volturno. Two passengers of the Volturno were killed while throwing themselves from the top into the boats, which were heavily loaded and almost crashed on the way back. Once again the two boats went to give help, but while on their way they were told: "there is no one left on the burning ship".
   The captain continues his report: It is regrettable that the Volturno lowered two boats full of people into the sea during the day, because the sea even was dangerous two big ships. The waves surely must have swallowed the boats. If there had not been panic on the Volturno and passengers and crew had succeeded in keeping their calm, then all would have been saved. The captain of the Volturno was the last person to leave the ship.
   At 8.30 the Touraine left the scene of the disaster and the other ships did so too, after having saluted at the wreck.
   The Carmania signaled that she would go up north and search for the two missing boats. I have searched at the south till 10 o'clock when I thought it unnecessary to continue the attempts, as I was convinced that the boats had sunk. Then I continued the trip to Le Havre. The captain ends with recommending several officers and members of the crew of his ship for honorable decorations.
   HAVRE, 14 October (part). All but two shipwrecked persons on board of the Touraine are healthy and doing well. The cook Mennema suffers the most (he has a broken leg), whereas the cook De Bruine has pneumonia. One child is ill as well.
   Mennema says the cause of the fire is due to throwing a cigarette in the hold where it fell into the food supplies and spread fast. In spite of the despair of the passengers there was not one incident of insubordination. The shipwrecked people left the ship this morning at a quarter past nine. Seventeen have requested to leave for New York, the others return to their homeland.
   HAVRE, 14 October (part). This afternoon in hospital, the Dutchman De Bruine, chief-cook of the Volturno (who had bruised several ribs and suffers from pneumonia) who is being nursed there, told the following about the disaster: "I was asleep when the fire started and as my cabin was situated in the fore I had to get through the flames in order not to get burned. The passengers sleeping in the cabins closest to it are likely to be woken up by the boiler explosion around nine o'clock, but by that time the [Start of Part 2] flames had already spread so far, that I doubt whether they have been successfull in rescuing themselves.
   "In the course of the afternoon I and three help-cooks went to the kitchen and brought coffee, bread, sausages and cigars to the passengers who were standing packed together at the behind part of the ship. Some men ate something, but the women were too desperate and refused all food. Later, as the behind part of the ship started burning, I thought the moment had come to abandon ship. I lowered myself on a rope that was hanging down along the Volturno and thought I could let myself fall into a boat, which I had seen near the ship, but because of [End of Part 1] the undulation that boat had drifted away too far. I was at the end of my strength and no longer could hold on to the rope and fell into the sea. I lost consciousness and only regained it at night when I was on board of the Touraine.
   MONTREAL, 14 October. From a wireless telegram we received here via Camperdown from the Kroonland (the captain, telegraphist and 89 passengers of the Volturno are on this ship), it shows that the shipwrecked people claim that the cause of the explosion and the resulting fire on the Volturno is the breaking of boxes with chemicals, which got in contact with each other and exploded.
   LONDON, 14 October. The steamship Minneapolis arrived today at 4 o'clock at Gravesend with 40 people saved from the Volturno. All rescued persons come from Russia or the Baltic nations. The Minneapolis was greeted with a salute of steam whistles from all ships and with cheers from the crowds gathered on the beach.
    PARIS, 14 October. From New York to the Patrie: The New York Tribune brings a special edition in which it publishes statements of the manager of the Uranium Steam Shipping Company, according to which the manager does not think it impossible that the disaster is due to malice. Among other things he said that for some time the crews of Dutch and Belgian nationalities on several ships on transatlantic lines have expressed increasingly angry demands, which soon were followed by threats.
    Some days before the departure of the Volturno the manager received a letter which had a threatening tone which stated that if the crew's demands were not met immediately, the manager might regret his opposition.
    The manager did not pay attention to the letter, but [End of Part 2] [Start of Part 3]
- he added - some days later the Volturno burnt at full sea. Who knows whether perhaps some device from hell put on board by a criminal hand, caused the explosion in the hold!

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